Yankton native Kipp Kinsley was ready to start his career as a professional triathlete — only to die of a heart condition one day after winning the 2018 Yankton triathlon.

As a professional triathlete, Kipp Kinsley returned to his hometown a year ago this weekend and won “Yankton’s Best Tri” — a grueling test of combined running, biking and swimming.

A day after his triumph in one of the Midwest’s toughest triathlons, the 25-year-old man passed away, to the shock of family and friends.

Jon and Shelly Kinsley later learned their son had suffered from a previously unknown cardiac condition.

“Although he was an exceptional athlete with no outward health concerns, we found out that Kipp had an undetected condition in the electrical system of his heart that caused a fatal arrhythmia,” Jon said. “Sadly, fatal arrhythmia is one of the leading causes of death in young athletes.”

Kipp was a top runner for Yankton High School and NCAA Division I member South Dakota State University. He developed and maintained a passion for the triathlon. Shortly before his death, he had qualified as a professional triathlete and had joined the “Nor’Easter” program in New England.

He was preparing for a return to Massachusetts after last year’s Yankton triathlon, ready to resume his career.

In honor of his memory, his family has started the “Kipp Kinsley Memorial 5K,” scheduled for this Friday evening. They have also started the BeKipp Foundation, which raises money for a number of causes.

The activities continue Saturday morning with the annual “Yankton’s Best Tri,” with its Facebook page containing the tribute line based on Kinsley’s motto: “Finish Your Race Well.”

Jon Kinsley said his son would be proud to be associated in such a way with his hometown and its triathlon tradition, which he said dates back to the 1980s. The triathlon has grown through the years, he added.

In the months before his death, Kipp had dealt with both ups and downs with his athletic career, Jon said.

“Last year) was a pivotal year for his triathlon profession. In March, he completed the Houston 70.3, which is a half-Ironman event. He took second place overall, and that qualified him for a professional triathlon,” Jon said.

“That was one of Kipp’s major accomplishments. He finished in 3:59, which is quite a big thing. You look at professional triathletes, and breaking 4 hours is their goal. Kipp did it in his first 70.3 half-Ironman triathlon.”

After achieving that milestone, Kipp developed physical setbacks, Jon said.

“Unfortunately, after the race, Kipp didn’t feel well. He had a lot of fatigue, so he took time off,” Jon said. “He did go to the East Coast to join the Nor’Easter Team in Massachusetts.  He was just feeling better and had done a little bit of training in Yankton. He did the Yankton triathlon and was heading back East.”

But those dreams were never realized.

The Kinsley family started the 5K walk/run/bike for a number of reasons. They wanted to keep Kipp’s memory alive, but they also wanted to use the cause of his death as an opportunity to build awareness and hopefully save lives.

“We will be offering a bit of education (about the heart condition) and the foundation,” Jon said. “We’re also doing something unique. We’ll draw two names from those registered for the 5K and give away two AEDs (automated electronic defibrillators). The persons whose names are drawn can each designate which organization, church, school or other place will receive the AED.”

Registration and packet pickup for the Kipp Kinsley Memorial 5K begins at 6 p.m. Friday in the Lodge at Lewis and Clark Lake. The walk/run/bike will start around 7:30 p.m.

“We want people to have a sunset experience, which is why we chose that time for the walk, run and bike,” Jon said. “This isn’t a competitive or timed event. Anyone is welcome to attend and to participate as we remember Kipp.”

However, the event is much more than scenery and exercise. There is no charge this year, but T-shirts are $15, and any proceeds from the sales will go to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

“The evening will include educational information about arrhythmia that takes far too many lives,” Jon said.

In addition, a freewill donation will be taken for the BeKipp Foundation, which funds two Yankton High School scholarships for endurance athletes, sponsors area teams and provides AEDs.

“We’re also increasing awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and what any and all individuals can do to save a life in those situations,” Jon said.

The activities continue Saturday with the annual Yankton Best Tri event, according to Dave Carda, a Sertoma member who serves on the triathlon committee.

The Sertoma Club took over the long-running triathlon in 2016 and gave it the new name. The event raises money for the United Way, Boys and Girls Club and the Sertoma Club.

“We thank all (the triathlon participants), as proceeds from this event go towards making Yankton and the surrounding area ‘a better and more meaningful place to live,’” Carda said.

Yankton’s Best Tri raises money for youth sports, helps the hearing impaired, brings together people through fitness, and promotes the beauty of the Yankton community, Carda said.

The 2019 triathlon will carry two special connections to the Kinsley family, Carda said.

“This year, the races takes on an even bigger meaning with Jon Kinsley joining the (Sertoma) club and helping to make it a triathlon that carries on Kipp’s passion for the sport,” Carda said. “This was also the last event Kipp was in (before his passing).”

This year’s Yankton’s Best Tri will be held at Lake Yankton, a change from the previous location of Lewis and Clark Lake, Carda said. The new venue will bring with it new opportunities for both participants and spectators.

“Greg Taylor, a local doctor who participates in the Ironman Triathlon, has worked with the (Sertoma) club on the race venue which has moved … due to the wind,” he said.

The triathlon consists of a quarter-mile swim in Lake Yankton, an 11.5-mile bike ride around Lake Yankton and a 5K run around Lake Yankton. Yankton’s Best Tri will offer a flat, fast course and use AllSportCentral Chip Timing that will record all times and splits.  

Yankton’s Best Tri draws participants of all ages, including 90-year-old former South Dakota governor Frank Farrar, Carda said. The triathlon has become known for its high number of volunteers and support services with an emphasis on safety and an enjoyable experience that is also spectator friendly.

Jon Kinsley said his son, as lifelong Yankton resident, would appreciate this year’s tribute to him and the continuation of the top-quality triathlon that his son won in 2011 and 2018.

“Kipp was a top finisher in many nationally sanctioned triathlons, earning recognition as a USAT Elite (professional) Athlete and an Ironman All World Athlete,” Jon said.

Despite such honors, the greatest accolades came in the love and support that Kipp shared with his fellow runners and triathletes, Jon said.

“I think (YHS track and cross country coach) Luke Youmans said it best: If Kipp was asked to do something, then he did everything within his power to get it done,” Jon said.

In turn, Kipp tried to bond with and inspire others, Jon said.

“A lot of them held a memorial run last year to honor Kipp while they were back in Yankton for his funeral. A number of them are back for this year’s 5K and triathlon, with one group forming a team for the triathlon,” he said.

“It’s a close group, the people who do the distance running and the endurance swimming and biking. It’s all about training with so many long hours spent alone. When you get in the same cadre of people who train at that level, you understand each other. You’re very close because of that understanding of the sacrifices. You put it into building a bond that’s unique.”

As of Monday afternoon, 118 participants had registered for the triathlon and 230 for the 5K, with more registrants expected right up to starting time, Jon Kinsley said.

A year after his son’s death, Jon Kinsley said he still feels strong grief.

“The pain doesn’t go away. You miss him every day,” Jon said. “Kipp was just a good all-around young man, People liked him, and he cared for others.”

However, the Kinsleys hope their son’s legacy continues burning bright with that this weekend’s 5K and triathlon, along with the ongoing foundation work and educational outreach.

“We’ll never get over it,” Jon said. “We hope to honor him and do everything within our power to make sure we continue to serve others.”


For more information on the 5K or triathlon, check the respective Facebook page.

For more information on Sudden Cardiac Arrest, visit online at

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